The History of Hawai‘i From Our Files: Looking Back at the Cases Against 5 Men Who Were Wrongfully Arrested
HONOLULU Magazine emerged from predecessor Paradise of the Pacific, which began in 1888, fulfilling a commission by King Kalākaua. That makes this the oldest continuously published magazine west of the Mississippi with an enviable archive worth diving into each month. Here’s a look back at May 1986.
“If anybody thinks it doesn’t happen, all they have to do is remember the witches of Salem.” Federal Judge Sam King’s quote starts HONOLULU’s examination of the cases against five men who were all wrongfully arrested for crimes including murder, rape and assault in “Wrong Man” by Victor Lipman. Lipman outlines the case of John Date in 1981.
“On Christmas Eve, police arrested John Date as he was driving on Tantalus with his girlfriend. He was charged with rape, attempted rape, sexual abuse and burglary. Three victims, all women from Manoa, identified Date as the young man who raped them or attempted to rape them,” Lipman writes. “Newspaper accounts of the crimes were detailed and seemed to leave little doubts in readers’ minds that the police had their man.”
Nineteen-year-old Date, who was described as slim, blond-haired and baby-faced with braces, was marked the “Manoa Rapist.” He spent three months in jail awaiting trial. There, his attorneys later told the Honolulu Advertiser, he was abused by other prisoners until police arrested and charged University of Hawaiʻi honors student John Freudenberg.
Detectives said “Date and Freudenberg were similar in build and appearance,” writes Lipman. “One of Date’s attorneys, Tony Yusi, also faulted the way his client was picked out of a police lineup. According to Yusi, as reported in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, ‘The other [six] people in the line-up were clean and relaxed, in contrast to Date who had spent the night in jail and was understandably upset by his arrest. He had no friends or family around and looked around dejectedly. He looked guilty.’”
Faulty victim identification also led to the arrest of Albert Terry, a campaign worker who was wrongfully accused of rape in 1976 and Florencio Baclaan, who was accused of a stabbing in 1982 when it was his brother who committed the crime. All were eventually released but the stigma and time in jail took a toll. Sixteen years after his arrest, Date killed himself. Lipman writes, “When identification is made at a fleeting moment, like say this case with Terry on a truck, he should have been given the opportunity to have a more confronting type of identification. Or if the hairs don’t match [as they didn’t in this case], that should really be cause for extra care to be taken in identification. Finally, particularly in sensational crimes that have received generous media attention, we would all be well advised not to forget the most basic presumption of our legal system. In lurid, high-visibility cases there is a tendency for people to automatically assume the worst as soon as a suspect is named, almost as if meeting some collective psychological need for retribution.”
Much has changed in the past few decades. In 1987, a rapist in Florida became the first man to be convicted because of DNA evidence. By 2009, Time magazine says DNA evidence led to 240 convictions being overturned in 33 states. Still, science can be open to interpretation and is not infallible. On its website, the Hawaiʻi Innocence Project outlines several cases it is working on or recently helped overturn.
Read more at hawaiiinnocenceproject.org.
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